History of Telecommunications

Telecommunications is simply the sharing of information over a distance that normally would preclude human interaction. These days, telecommunication is everywhere and comprises a significant portion of most people's daily lives. Many different things are incorporated, such as shopping, navigation, video, and voice communication. This wasn't always the case, of course. We are so far advanced from when telecommunications began that one may not even recognize the link between the old and the new.

Public Utilities – This page provides a great overview of the types of modern day telecommunications.
Key Terms – Here is a long list of definitions, straight from the United States Code, that outline every aspect of telecommunications.
Communication – Very large resource on communication, covering everything from animals to the future.

There are quite a few definitions of telecommunications, but they all invariably mean the same thing. One of the prevailing definitions is communication, usually over a measurable distance, either by wire or broadcasting. It seems simple enough, and it is, but it has certainly changed over the years. A few of the key concepts have remained untouched, while others have adapted to advances in technology. For example, in order to communicate in any fashion, you need one party to transmit something and another to receive it. The simplest form of this is speaking and hearing that speech. One of the more modern concepts is that of analog versus digital, the main difference between the two being analog's susceptibility to interference.

Renewing Telecommunications Research – This paper, from the National Research Council, explains what the future may hold.
Communication Model – A pretty basic cartoonish diagram, but one that illustrates perfectly what communication is.
Analog or Digital – An MIT paper from over a decade ago, explaining the difference between analog and digital forms of communication. Very informative.
Intro to Digital – A much more recently updated comparison between analog and digital. (PDF)

The act of communicating over a distance has been occurring for ages although it may not have been as effective or efficient as today's methods. Given the technology and mindset of the era, communication at ANY distance outside of normal voice range would have been astounding. The earliest examples of communicating over a distance were of the visual and auditory variety. Drumbeats, whistles, smoke signals, or fire beacons were some of the earliest types. Also, once the written word was established, messages could be inscribed and carried by courier. Within the last century, carrier pigeons have been used to carry messages and ships at sea have used flags to transmit messages.

The technology for the telegraph was invented in 1747 when William Watson showed that electrical impulses could be transmitted over a distance by wire. Sometime later, various other systems had been designed for sending and receiving messages. Samuel Morse invented the code that bears his name in 1837, and telegraph lines started popping up everywhere. Detailed messages could be sent and received hundreds of miles away. Then, in 1875, Alexander Graham Bell invented his “electronic speech machine”, or telephone, and telecommunications exploded. Similar leaps in technology were made with the invention of the radio, television, and of course, the Internet. Nothing has been responsible for such widespread information as the Internet and modern computing. The ways in which information is accessible today would have astounded scientists even 30 short years ago. This is the Information Age.

History of Communications - Go deeper into the history with the help of the Franklin Institute.
Medieval Communications – What existed between ancient smoke signals and text messages? You can find out here. (PDF)
Timeline – High quality, informative time-line with pictures and dates of major events in the development of telecommunications.
Telegraph – Very well written story of the telegraph and its place in telecommunications.
Wireless Telegraph – That was one of the first names given to the radio. Learn that story here.
Discovery of Television – Text heavy paper on the invention of TV. Some of the dates may surprise you.
The Internet – While it is hard to nail down any specific invention date for such a complex system, this site does a wonderful job trying.

Telecommunications is a modern word, but an ancient practice. The methods our ancestors used were obviously not as reliable or accurate as our practices today. Through their innovations, humans were able to successively build upon previous technology to create the next great thing. Once the telephone was invented, it is likely that no one was expecting communications to advance much beyond that. Then came broadcast video images. It seems as if our modern technology of hand held devices streaming video and audio in real-time is as good as it gets, but who knows what we will using in 10 years?


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